Tarantulas is the common name for a group of “hairy” and often very large spiders belonging to the family Theraphosidae.
There are about 900 species of tarantulas.
They are found in the rainforests and jungles of South and Central America, in Africa and in the southern part of North America.
Many Tarantulas live in burrows underground. They will either use their fangs to dig them or else take someone else’s burrow-home.
These large spiders are solitary creatures, so there is only one spider per burrow-home.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, female tarantulas can live up to 30 years, while males live for a much shorter time, around 7 years.
Tarantula sizes range from as small as a fingernail to as large as a dinner plate when the legs are fully extended. Depending on the species, the body length of tarantulas ranges from 2.5 to 10 cm (1 to 4 in), with leg spans of 8 to 30 centimeters (3 to 12 inches).
The largest spider in the world is the Goliath Bird-Eating tarantula. Yes, as the name suggests, this spider is large enough to eat birds, and it does. Yikes! The Goliath can reach up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) in body length and has 1-inch long fangs.
They vary in color and behavior according to their specific environments. Many are black or brown in color. Several species also bear distinct stripes along their legs.
Like all spiders, tarantulas have two body segments—a cephalothorax (seff-a-la-THOR-ax) and abdomen—and very strong jaws with venomous fangs. Their legs (all eight of them!) are covered with tiny hairs. They have tiny claws on the ends of their legs that allow them to climb and cling to walls and ceilings, but most species of tarantula are ground dwellers.
Tarantulas can move quite quickly when they want to. Most of the time, however, tarantulas move in a very slow, plodding sort of way. This is because tarantulas do not have very good eyesight and sense the world through vibrations they pick up via their legs and hairs on their body. Moving slowly allows them to sense the world around them more easily.
All tarantulas are venomous and some bites cause serious discomfort that might persist for several days. In general, the effects of the bites of all kinds of tarantula are not well known. While the bites of many species are known to be no worse than a wasp sting, accounts of bites by some species are reported to be very painful and to produce intense spasms that may recur over a period of several days; the venom of the African tarantula Pelinobius muticus also causes strong hallucinations.
Tarantulas are carnivores. They eat all kinds of insects, especially larger ones like crickets, grasshoppers, June beetles, cicadas, millipedes, caterpillars, and other spiders. Larger tarantulas will also eat frogs, toads, small rodents, lizards, bats, and small snakes. Certain varieties of tarantulas – think the Goliath birdeater – often also consume hatchlings and birds, hence the fitting moniker.
Tarantulas are also usually nocturnal. This means they hunt at night, primarily, and they actually have to hunt their prey as they do not make webs for insects to get trapped in like other spiders.
However, tarantulas make a silken web and is used to make a home, a molting “mat,” or to aid in handling food items.
If a tarantula happens to enjoy a particularly big meal, he will likely be satisfied for quite a while. He may not have the need to consume anything else for a month.
Like other spiders, tarantulas have to shed their exoskeleton periodically to grow, a process called molting. A young tarantula may do this several times a year as a part of the maturation process, while full-grown specimens only molt once a year or less, or sooner, to replace lost limbs or lost urticating hairs.
Once mature, a male tarantula abandons his burrow to seek a female by following the scent she leaves. The pair performs a courtship dance and then, if the male is deemed suitable, they mate. The female makes a silk cocoon in her home for her eggs. Once the eggs are laid (from 75 to 1,000!), she seals up the cocoon with silk and then stands guard for 6 to 9 weeks until the young hatch. They go off on their own when they are two to three weeks old.
The spider originally bearing the name “tarantula” was Lycosa tarantula, a species of wolf spider native to Mediterranean Europe. The name derived from that of the southern Italian town of Taranto. The term “tarantula” subsequently was applied to almost any large, unfamiliar species of ground-dwelling spider, in particular to the Mygalomorphae and especially to the New World Theraphosidae.
Some species have become popular in the exotic pet trade.
New World species kept as pets have urticating hairs that can cause irritation to the skin and, in extreme cases, cause damage to eyes.
The hysterical illness known as tarantism was wrongly thought to be caused by a tarantula’s bite.